Fort Collins City Council votes to amend proposed sit-lie ban

Rachel Telljohn

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly spelled Duane Hansen and Kwon Atlas’ names. The error has been corrected. 

As Jennifer Reistch, a member of the Fort Collins Homeless Coalition, spoke to Fort Collins city council Tuesday night, she asked a question: “I see you, do you see me?”

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Reistch was one of dozens of community members who spoke out against a proposed ordinance which many are labeling a sit-lie ban. After over two hours of feedback and discussion, council motioned to amend the ordinance.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit individuals from sitting or lying on public sidewalks, leaving personal property unattended, having attended personal property which exceeds more than what one can carry and reclining or lying on benches in the downtown Fort Collins area.

Members of the Fort Collins Homeless Coalition arrived early to the meeting to sit outside of city hall with signs, similar to those held during a snowy sit-in.

People of Fort Collins line up to speak to the city council board members on the topic of the Sit- Lie Ban. (Julia Trowbridge | Collegian)

City officials like Jeff Mihelich have said the ordinance is not a sit-lie ban because it only prohibits lying from the hours of 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. and it does not target the homeless population, but, rather, disruptive behaviors.

“We’ve been extremely careful to make sure this isn’t a sit-lie ban that applies city-wide,” Mileich said, “mainly because it’s a high trafficked area for people to experience commerce.”

Most of the community feedback received Tuesday night was in opposition of the ordinance.

A majority of those who spoke in favor of the ordinance were downtown business owners like Ryan Hodack. Less than ten people spoke in favor of the ordinance.

“I’m glad this ordinance is not against the homeless. (Behavior bans) are appropriate,” Hodack said.

Business owners like Hodack said they stand behind efforts to support the homeless by donating money to the Larimer County Food Bank. The money they donate is generated through Great Plates, hosted at the beginning of March in the downtown area.

Mark Silverstein of the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union was one of those to speak out against the ordinance.

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“The last time I came up here to talk to you was when I came up here to sue you all,” Silverstein said. “You should be ashamed of yourselves for even thinking of this.”

Silverstein said the ordinance is poorly written and it is directly targeting homeless people that carry their possessions in a shopping cart.

“When they have to do something in order to survive, you cannot make it illegal,” Silverstein said.”

Colorado State University students, professors and alumni voiced their opposition.

“I would like to suggest two different solutions. One is just to throw this whole idea away,” said Kwon Atlas, a CSU alumnus running for mayor.

Faith community members also expressed opposition to the ordinance and were confused as to why they had not been brought into the conversation more.

“(Homeless people) are not the enemy,” said Sister Mary Alice Murphy.

Those who identify as homeless, or who did identify as homeless at some point, shared their stories and opinions.

“I do not believe that the city should be basing ordinances on circumstance. It is unjust,” said Duane Hansen, a CSU alumnus running for city council.

Hansen said he experienced about 8 months of homelessness and an ordinance like the one proposed might have furthered a downward spiral. Hansen said many who are homeless experience said spiral.

Community members who have lived in Fort Collins for more than a decade spoke.

Shane Miller, a Fort Collins resident, compared the ordinance to using the guillotine to cure a behavior. Miller said it deprives every person of some liberty or freedom.

Some said they would like to see more hard data detailing the complaints business owners have received or are citing. Many expressed concerns around a skewed survey.

City council discussed the proposed ordinance and asked questions after they were given feedback from the community.

“I don’t think we can pretend that the disruptive behavior seen downtown is being imagined by anybody,” said council member Gino Campana. “I sure would like to talk to ACLU at this point, rather than a later point.”

Campana motioned to pass the ordinance as is, but to strike two portions of the ordinance. The portion of the ordinance which would prohibit sitting or lying from the hours of 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. and the portion of the ordinance which would put restrictions on attended personal property.

Council member Ross Cunniff wanted to remove the part about sitting or lying within 20 feet of transit centers.

“It’s important to us to get this right,” said council member Kristin Stephens.

Mayor Wade Troxell said he is concerned the city will receive complaints in the coming months as the weather warms up.

The amended proposed ordinance will go before council for its second reading on March 21 and council will reconsider.

Collegian reporter Rachel Telljohn can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @racheltelljohn.